Colorado State University’s Chemistry Department Creates a True Recyclable

Common plastic utencils

Common plastic utencils

Recently, in a chemistry lab at Colorado State University, Eugene Chen and Miao Hong achieved a technological breakthrough that could lead to truly recyclable plastics. In their study published in Nature Chemistry in November 2015, Chen and Hong “describe synthesizing a polyester that, when simply reheated for an hour, converts back to its original molecular state, ready for reuse”.

In contrast, even ‘eco-friendly’ single-use utensils and containers on the market are made out of either simple plastics, which are down-cycled  more than recycled, or polylactic acid (PLA), which biodegrades in 3-6 months but releases unwanted by-products.

The article describes in technical terms how, by starting with the molecule GBL and bioderiving the chemical poly(GBL), Chen’s team created a material that can be heated to between 428 and 572 degrees Fahrenheit, causing it to convert back to its original molecular state. This research could lead to products that are truly recyclable and would certainly be a welcome addition to sustainable purchasing policies, in addition to making a major contribution to global waste reduction. 

More information on Chen and Hong’s work is available on Colorado State’s website.